So I’m up late working. The TV is on and the channel’s set to MTV Hits (because sometimes I crave videos), but I’m only half paying attention. Kanye West segues into Fergie, then 50 Cent, Aly & AJ, and one Sean Kingston. Now, I’ll admit, I’m not all that familiar with Kingston, but I do know he’s 16 years old and has the number one song in the country this week. It’s a track called “Beautiful Girl,” a sweet little ditty with a slightly retro faux-’50s vibe (it’s built on percussion and bass line samples from Ben E. King’s chestnut “Stand By Me”), and the video features cute, innocent-looking high school kids in poodle skirts and ponytails. I tune in for a bit, then tune out, and just as he hits the chorus, I notice a big chunk of it is missing. Not just a bleeped or scratch-replaced word, but a good line or two, since I can see him mouthing along.
I’m intrigued and keep watching. A couple choruses later, not only are the lyrics removed, but all music is silenced leaving a gaping hole of dead air. So I’m thinking, this kid’s 16, and good girls Aly & AJ were the lead-in to his American Bandstand-looking video, what could he possibly be saying that’s so bad, so racy that it didn’t pass muster with MTV Standards & Practices?
A Google-second later, I have my answer. Here’s the chorus, the third and fourth lines of which MTV removed:
You’re way too beautiful, girl
That’s why it’ll never work
You’ll have me suicidal, suicidal
When you say it’s over
(After the jump, watch the uncensored video and weigh in on whether MTV is right to snip this clip.)
Of course, we’re all used to MTV’s self-policing policies by now — blurred out logos and excessive skin, the removal of hateful, homophobic, or overly-violent lyrics — even when nonsensical at times (a pot leaf in a Snoop Dogg video will get distorted, yet the song “Because I Got High” can air in its entirety). And not to belittle teen suicide, which is on the rise according to recent studies, but it seems like the sentiment of “I would die for you” has been common in pop music, going on many, many decades (not to mention for centuries in literature). In fact, Prince had a song with that exact title. If it aired now, would it have to be “I would (bleep) for you?”
So I started thinking of other similarly-themed songs, like Violent Femmes’ “Kiss Off” and Papa Roach’s “Last Resort.” After some Internet-ing, I found a Tim McGraw song called “Kill Myself” and was reminded of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” Hüsker Dü’s “Too Far Down,” Pete Droge’s “If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself),” and the Pernice Brothers’ “Working Girls” (“Contemplating suicide and a graduate degree,” sings Joe Pernice in one of his best lines). Sad songs, yes, but they really do say so much.
So what’s my point here? I guess that it’s a shame for a newcomer like Sean Kingston to have to settle for such a poorly-executed edit on his MTV debut. Or that superfluous booty is perfectly acceptable day or night, but a real emotional expression, while not exactly poetry, isn’t. Or how maybe things haven’t changed all that much since the Doors and the Rolling Stones’ lyrically controversial appearances on Ed Sullivan 40 years ago. Or maybe I’m reading too much into this. Perhaps it’s totally justified. What do you think?